It’s confession time: The Pirates! In An Adventure With Scientists is the first Aardman film I’ve ever watched. I never saw the appeal of Wallace and Gromit, and their other movies just passed me by. But I’ve heard nothing but good things about The Pirates! so I decided to give it a go.
And that was definitely a good decision.
Aardman films take a long time to make it to cinemas, with seconds of on-screen action taking weeks to capture. Such intricate production values could lead to Aardman forgetting about the script, but The Pirates! is extremely entertaining. It’s consistently funny, moves along at a quick pace, and is never boring. There are a lot of visual jokes too, and you might find yourself watching the film where the action isn’t as there are often posters, street names and other background gags to look out for.
Although the film has a U rating in the UK, it really isn’t a kids film. That’s not to say that the humour is particularly dirty, but the plot isn’t really simple enough for young children to enjoy or understand, although what’s actually happening on the screen should keep their attention.
The basics of the plot are this. Pirate Captain (Hugh Grant, who sounds like he’s having a great time) is a pirate who works very hard on his pirating, but in over 20 years on the seas, he’s never managed to win Pirate Of The Year. He’s determined to do it this year, and sets out to loot and plunder like there’s no tomorrow. But he has a really bad run of form, encountering plague ships, ghost ships and a ship with school children on a geography trip. Despondent, he has to be talked out of quitting piracy (to set up a baby clothes business) by his faithful number two, Pirate with Scarf (Martin Freeman).
But the next ship he attempts to plunder doesn’t have any gold on it either. He boards the Beagle, where he meets a bored (and sexually frustrated) Charles Darwin (David Tennant). To cheer himself up, he makes Darwin walk the plank, only to rescue him when Darwin realises that Pirate Captain’s ‘parrot’ Polly is actually a dodo. Hailing it as the scientific discovery of the year, he informs the captain that he could win untold riches at the Scientist Of The Year awards, so they set sail for London to claim the prize.
Of course, it would be a rather boring film if that was the end of things. So when the pirates reach London, they have to disguise themselves, as Queen Victoria (Imelda Staunton) hates pirates and also have to keep an eye on Darwin, as he attempts to steal Polly and claim the Scientist Of The Year award for himself. During this stage of the film, there’s a fantastic set piece as the pirates chase Darwin and his monkey butler as they attempt to steal Polly. It involves a bath, stairs, one of the heads from Easter Island and is thrilling and funny.
The finale of the film is similarly exciting, and overall the film is really entertaining and fun to watch. The voice talent is great, with Brendan Gleeson (as Pirate With Gout), Ashley Jensen (as the cross dressing Surprisingly Curvaceous Pirate), Russell Tovey (as Albino Pirate), and Lenny Henry, Salma Hayek and Jeremy Piven as rival pirate captains Peg Leg Hastings, Cutlass Liz and Black Bellamy. Hugh Grant is great as Pirate Captain, and with the film certain to be a success, especially in the UK, a sequel already seems inevitable.
While The Pirates! won’t prompt me to watch the Aardman back catalogue, I enjoyed it a lot, and recommend it whether you’re a fan of their work or not.